The other message is to be certain that the person serving as a trustee has the knowledge to administer the trust properly or the wisdom to retain an experienced estate planning attorney who will know how to administer a trust. Not every CPA has detailed knowledge about trust taxation, reports the recent article, “Trust’s Incorrect Tax Form Forfeited large Tax Refund Claim: A Lesson For Trustees,” from Forbes.
For income tax purposes, there are several types of trusts. “Grantor trusts” are those whose income is taxed to the person, the settlor, who created the trust. The trust at issue was a grantor trust. However, when the taxpayer who created the trust died, the trust became a non-grantor trust. These are also called “complex” trusts. The income is not reported by the person creating the trust. Complex trusts usually pay their own income taxes. The beneficiaries receiving distributions then report the income for tax purposes included in the income received from the trust. This is referred to as the trust’s Distributable Net Income or “DNI.”
In this case, the trust is the remainder trust after the termination of a Qualified Personal Residence Trust or “QPRT.” This is a trust used to transfer a valuable house from the taxpayer’s estate to descendants or to a trust for them at a discount from the trust’s current value.
The trust had income to report for income tax purposes, which will be done on Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. The trust felt it was entitled to a refund of some of the taxes it paid, so it filed for a refund. Refund claims are supposed to be filed by amending the trust income tax return, but the trust filed Form 843, a form to claim a refund. The wrong form led the Court to determine that the trust failed to take appropriate action, and the refund was lost. The trust’s filing did put the IRS on notice that the claim was the wrong action.
The IRS said the taxpayer’s filing of Form 843 was insufficient as a formal claim because an amended Form 1041 is the proper form. The Court found that the IRS is authorized to demand information in a particular form and to insist that the form is observed. The instructions on Form 853 advise that the form is for a refund of taxes other than income tax, while the instructions on Form 1041 indicate that it must be used to claim a refund.
What happened in this case? Someone managing the trust didn’t know enough about trust taxation. The family may not have had regular meetings with their estate and trust attorney who created the trust. The deceased taxpayer in this case was a judge, and the trustee was the son of the judge. The taxpayer died in 2015, and the house was sold for $1.8 million the next year. The IRS demanded $930,127 in taxes, penalties, and interest from the Trust. The Trust paid that amount assessed on September 24, 2021. The court opinion was handed down on August 7, 2023. The amount of costs in accounting and legal fees must have been enormous.
This is an excellent example of why families need to have regular, ongoing meetings with their estate planning attorneys and tax advisors to be sure everyone is on the same page. Annual reviews and an estate planning attorney focusing on trust taxation could have saved this family money, time, and the stress of an unresolved IRS issue.
Reference: Forbes (Aug. 19, 2023) “Trust’s Incorrect Tax Form Forfeited large Tax Refund Claim: A Lesson For Trustees”